Journey to the End of the World, Part 2

I met back up with my Aussie trekking buddy and prepped for the next trailhead. Continuing through Cape Horn along the Straights of Magellan and in route to the most southern point on the mainland of Chile.

We had planned to be 15 minutes early, but to our surprise, we were actually 15 minutes late for our ride. Incorrect information giving is not uncommon in the lovely Latin American culture. In fact, I more or less expect it these days.

What to do? Crystal pulls out a bar of emergency chocolate and we began to eat our frustrations away. …a lightbulb goes on in my head. I walk over to the man at the window and started getting information for my potential plan… I haven’t been able to check ‘Hitchhiking in Patagonia’ off my list yet – now I have the perfect opportunity!

When I sprung the idea on Crystal she looked at me with a bit of concern. What’s the worst that could happen if we get stuck without a ride? Camp in a ditch in the freezing cold rain in a foreign country? Okay.

Naturally it’s raining when we get to Ruta 9. I throw up my thumb. One car… two cars… and the third pulls over! I ask the man where he’s headed and our new friend, Keko, tells us he’ll get us half way. The white Subaru was fantastically full. Full of rubbish and anything/everything else. There was given trash on the floor, random dusty boxes, a slide projector and stand, and at one point we actually pulled over to pick up a peat brick on the side of the road because he said it would be a great fire starter. We yelled back and forth in conversation over the heater that had 2 options – off or maxed out. He must have taken a liking to us because soon he was saying he was worried about us getting there and that he’d take us all the way… after we checked on his cows.

We stopped at his farm and got the history of the land and how the agriculture down here works. Then we continued our tour on the back roads to a lagoon where him and his father used to fish. Soon back to the Straights and nearing our drop off point, but our Patagonian friend forgot about this when he saw a new bridge and decided to keep driving…

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He told us he did a motorcycle trip down here with some friends a long time ago and that they had to wait for the rivers to lower to drive through. Now with the excitement of the new bridge he was in adventure mode and thought we should go exploring on the other side with the Subaru. Over the bridge and along the coast. Everything was flooding along the trail and soon we we’re bottoming out and splashing through the puddles. Up ahead I saw a small river overtaking our path. This didn’t seem to phase Keko or the Subaru. The first one was okay, but the second was more than questionable. There was some nervousness in the air as water engulfed us and then the car started shaking. Then we all started shaking and steam began rolling out from under the hood. He looked at me and said, I think we should turn around. Good idea. Shockingly we made it back through the “puddles” and to the road.

I’d like to say the car’s conditions improved, but they didn’t. I’d like to say the weather improved, but it got worse. It’s okay though because I got to “The End of the World”.

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Journey to the End of the World, Part 1

My time in Patagonia is nearing an end, but my goal is to reach the most southern point of the country and do one last hike at 53.78 degrees south, Cabo San Isidro.

But, how to get there? Thanks to another Midwestern soul in Chile, a plan starts developing. He has driven his motorcycle all the way from Chicago. If I can find a helmet, I’m told I have a ride. Done!

I put on all the layers I own and walk out our hostel looking like the navy blue version of the Michelin Man. It’s raining, but I’m ready. He asks if I’m serious and I give a big grin indicating “yes”. Vamos!

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We’re southbound and riding in cold rain. I wrap scarfs around my face and peer over his shoulder while trying to keep my fingers warm. I’m thankful to have him as my wind block. 90 miles in and we pull over. He steps off the bike laughing.

D: “How are you doing?”

Me: “Great. Why?”

D: “These are possibly the worst conditions I’ve ridden in.”

I start laughing as well. Ignorance is bliss!

We keep on going and the weather clears a bit. Soon he is shouting something and pointing to our left. Tierra del Fuego stands on the other side of the Straight of Magellan. My mind excites thinking of all the history and sailing expeditions that have taken place down here in Cape Horn.

248K later we arrive at our point of separation. What an experience to take a joy ride in Patagonia on “The Route to the End of the World”!

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Patagonian Adventure [In Brief]:

In the heart of Patagonia, Torres del Paine, my Aussie trekking partner and I set forth. A 9 day circuit – 142 kilometers – carring nearly a third of my weight, 45+ pounds, on my back.

…a few nights in I turn a pile of rocks by the frigid stream into my lazyboy recliner, sit by glacial lakes, stare up at the ridge lines, and drift off to the white noise created by the melt off trying to take it all in. I wander back to the tent in a daze… first, scaring myself, then, scaring off the beady eyes near a pile in the dark – my backpack. 2 new holes sit warm with saliva… a fox had attacked my pack.

In the morning, mud mazes lead to a huge morrain field. Piles and piles of scree, some parts are accompanied by moss and small streams. Up and over the pass…

…the stunning Glacier Grey streches down to the waters edge where the icebergs have fallen from their mother. On the other end it goes up and over the mountians blending into the sky. The sun peaks out from behind the clouds and a glorious blue appears where it strikes the surface of the ice… Off in the distance mini glaciers are wrapping into the valleys of other mountains. I sit on a green patch above the magestic feature and wait for the sun to hit it perfectly. Closest to me, a layer of silt with glacial cravases appears like a cat has taken it’s claws to it. Inside the wound bleeds a radiant blue. Behind it millions of tiny jagged mountain structures in the glacier start bleeding out blue as well.  A 27 kilometer ice fortress.

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As we near the end, the face of it has giant ice gems getting ready to break off and join the other iceberg friends.

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At night, I fall sleep to glaciers crashing down through the valley. It’s amazingly thunderlike and endless. The morning brings The French Valley. At the view point I am engulfed by 270 degrees of diverse rock. To my left starts a large surface with banning that melts into a lighter granite. Erratic rock towers to the right and below them, a smooth shark fin. Then choclate with caramel swirls over to a slick and nearly glasslike surface with the reflecting sun. To the far right stood the granite rock tower we hiked towards the day prior. I stare out perched on my rock in the sun…

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Back at the campsite with new friends I chat and gaze at one of the most incredible skies I’ve ever witnessed. Every ounce is filled with brilliant stars. With the clear sky in all it’s majesty, we’re granted an incredible morning welcome as well. Fire red lighting on the rock face with a lovely rainbow as it’s backdrop.

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On the final morning, we wake early to try and catch another beautiful sunrise on The Towers. We run up the last stretch in the dark and scramble into a cave with our camp stove to warm up some tea while we wait.

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As this trek comes to and end, my hips and feet are ready for a break, but the rest of me is eager for the next Patagonian Adventure!

Flying Sola

Racing through the desert. 1,500 kilometers through the Atacama in my space ship (double decker bus) and watching the stars fly by out the window. Stunning. Bright and beautiful.

Another 1,500 kilometers on a ferry to Patagonia. Fjiords, glaciers, penguins, dolphins, whales, seals, and more on my 5 day journey south.

I didn’t know if this portion of my trip was going to be possible, yet here it is. I stare out into the unknown territory and wonder what this next section of my trip will bring. I’m alone in the Southern Hemisphere and my options are endless.

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Flat Out Saltly Fun

Last stop in Bolivia – Salar de Uyuni.

Sitting on the roof of the Land Rover and watching as the salt flats near us. Everything is crystal clear and the clouds become mirror images in the water below. The mountains in the distance duplicate. Pure and heavenly.

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Slowly the water began to shallow and we were on dry terrain.

Time for lunch and a photo shoot! Our driver hands us a dinausor and tells us to go have fun. The depth perception is distorted becuase of the all-white background… so we run around the desert laughing and coming up with prop ideas.

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Mining Day in Potosi

Rubber boots and a dirty gray jumper. Ripped maroon pants and a hard hat. A cord for light attached to a belt seeming to be made of rubber from an old tire.

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We head to the mines and enter the Indiana Jones cavern. Immediately the floor gets muddy, the ceilings lower, and it’s harder to breathe as various smells present themselves.

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I´d like to claim I can put up with a lot, but as I write this, I wince and can still sence it. With the tight quarters and suffocating vapors, high altitude and lack of oxygen inside the mine, I had moments of claustrophobia. I was having to tell myself to relax and take slow deep breaths from behind my bandana.

In the beginning the tunnel seemed to be composed of mud bricks, but slowly and surely it was just blown out rock held up by deteriorating wooden beams. Some of the ceilings were yellowed by sulfate or greenish in hue from copper.

We walked along a rail to push the mining carts for a while and then it turned into a maze. We were climbing through narrow holes into tunnels on our hands, knees, and bellies, knocking our heads on the ceiling.

Our guide told us the death rates of the workers from collapsing tunnels and the diseases developed inside the mines. We were informed workers only live 10-15 years after entering the mines due to being exposed to noxious chemicals and gases, including silica dust, arsenic gases, acetylene vapors as well as asbestos deposits and carbon monoxide.

As we walked out the cool breeze was more than refreshing. I could breathe, my spirits were lifting… and then we were blinded by the light. Once I stepped out I saw the shacks the workers slept in, the dirt mud huts on the cold and exposed hillside. I thought about what a tough life these men had. Sad and lonely. What a strong being, both physically and mentally, one of these miners would need to be.

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If they could just live one of our lives for a day. See our homes, sleep in one of our beds, eat one of our meals, and use one of our baths…

We headed back down the hill and there was a sence of sadness over me. Though I`ve seen it hundreds of times now, I watched all the people in their dirty clothes – the women in their skirts and hats & the men in their tattered trousers – hunched backs and weathered faces from all the demanding work and harsh conditions. Most of them, adults and children, ate out of pastic bags with their hands and dirty fingernails. Some filled with rice, others with coca leaves. …I wanted to give them silverwear, a table, and a proper plate of food to enjoy with thier loved ones.

I am again reminded of how privlaged we are – to keep aware of the ¨simple¨ things, things not to take for granted.

A Cultured Carnival

What does a carnival in Bolivia look like?

THEE Carnival in Oruro is world renowned. It takes place 3 days before Ash Wednesday and kicks off the 4 day street party/parade with over 11,000 dancers and musicians along a 10K stretch.

I arrive the night before with my 3 new travel buddies -Eyal, Matt & Tree- and drop our bags at a locals home, duct tape our valueables inside the bed frame, and head out to walk the streets.

All types of vendors are set up selling this and that. It doesn´t take long for Matt and Tree to buy a can of foam and join in the ¨fun¨. I soon learn that while holding one of these cans (or associated with someone holding one) you are an immediate target. Foam is flying everywhere! Piles of this shaving cream substance are in your nose, ears, eyes, covering your body everywhere! At first it’s irritating, but you have to learn to embrace it… it’s part of the magic of Carnival.

Matt and Tree are as relenetless with the foam as the kids. They start ganging up on eachother and next thing I know a grown man grabs the can from his kid and is chasing them down the street with a long, curly, black wig.

We wind up in the main square dancing until the rain starts. The streets turn to mud rivers in no time. The sewers are overflowing… I don`t even want to think about the variety of rubbish I step in. Eyal claims he saw a canoe with three grown Bolivan men paddling past with the traditional hats of their women, but… he tends to exaggerate.

I wake early the next morning to the hum of the parade that will last until 4am. I run out and find a spot to stand and get a view. The dancers and their costumes are incredible! Extravegant. Beautiful. Sequins and colors galore – high golden boots laced with a elaborate ribbon – masks of silver and instrumental armadillos – mini-skirts and padded shoulders – dance moves with toe tapping, leaping and bounding, combinted with exotic tribal form.

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Eyal and I find the other 2 after a few hours and hear the story of how Tree got hit by a car in a *foam-off* with a kid. We make friends with a local family and they show us the inside scoop. Soon I´m chatting and sharing a beer with grandpa in the stands – he tells me how he used to participate when he was younger. Matt has put on a clown costume and if foam wasn´t plentyful before, it’s magnetic now.

The parade is a continuous flow. It’s amazing to watch the variety of dancers… how they can dance in those high heels and heavy costumes for miles in front of a massive crowd.

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The night portion turns into a lights festival. Demons and devils spray fire and dance about in their LED lights. I´m too tired to make it to the end, but I wake back up at 6 in the morning to the band starting their song again.

I walk back outside and somehow forgot about the foaming, but at least the people are kind enough to wash it off with a bucket of water and fists full of waterballoons.

Carnival. An authentic experience indeed!

a VERY small glimpse of what I was covered in

a VERY small glimpse of what I was covered in – please, stop